ISIS bans home internet in Raqqa

Internet café users are required to register their names and contact details of those they communicate with.

Men installing a satellite internet dish in Raqqa, Syria.

2015/08/14 Issue: 18 Page: 11

The Arab Weekly
Ahmad Ramadan

Raqqa, Syria - Islamic State (ISIS) militants have banned home internet use in their capital Raqqa, in north-eastern Syria, for fear of informers after a string of commanders were killed in US-led coalition air strikes. ISIS issued a decree on July 20th limiting inter­net access to public internet cafés, sources in Raqqa told The Arab Weekly.

Even its own fighters were not exempt from the ban.

Internet café users are required to register their names and contact details of those they communicate with. ISIS may check any user’s de­vice and café owners can be pun­ished for any violation.

A string of apparent drone at­tacks accurately targeting ISIS leaders led to militant fears of spies in their midst.

Three top ISIS officials were killed in a drone attack near a roundabout in Raqqa on July 8th. Each of the three held the title “emir” to denote leadership in the “caliphate” the militant group has declared in parts of Syria and Iraq.

“A civilian was also killed and others were wounded,” said a wit­ness who gave his name as Abu Ibrahim.

“The car stopped at El-Naim roundabout, where the Uzbek and Tunisian emirs got out while two other people stayed in the car. Af­ter the two men spent about 10 minutes in a shop to buy things, the Uzbek emir went back into the car.

After the car drove away almost 50 metres, it was hit by a mis­sile and everyone in the car was killed,” said Abu Ibrahim, a former Syrian opposition leader in Raqqa.

The three dead men were iden­tified through the shop’s surveil­lance camera, he said.

Almost a week later, Amer el- Rafiden, the ISIS ruler of El-Kheir in Syria’s north-eastern Deir ez-Zor province, was killed along with Abu Osama El-Iraqi, a brother-in-law of ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Bagh­dadi.

They were on a highway linking Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa after leaving an ISIS outpost 15 minutes earlier. Suspicion fell on a possible inform­ant notifying US-led forces of the men’s whereabouts.

“The organisation is apparently infiltrated. Some members can freely send any information they like without anybody knowing,” said Abu Ibrahim. “ISIS can’t moni­tor satellite internet because these services aren’t connected to serv­ers.”

Abu Ziad, a telecommunications engineer who left Raqqa nearly three months ago, said some inter­net cafés in the city were hacking certain applications, such as free-call and message service providers Viber and WhatsApp.

“These services require mobile numbers to verify the user’s iden­tity and activate free calls and text messaging services.

Hackers target European and US mobile numbers in return for 300 Syrian pounds (about $1) per oper­ation demanded by ISIS,” accord­ing to Abu Ziad.

The only way to connect to the internet in Raqqa is via satellite using equipment smuggled from Turkey. The internet providers then charged homes and business­es to use their connection.

“Bringing internet into homes was our main motive for doing this job and brought us good income thanks to the high demand,” said Mohammad Abed, an internet café owner.

When ISIS issued its ban on home internet use, service provid­ers began taking down the satellite receivers from their rooftops.

“Now, it’s hard to continue. ISIS members told me we may be al­lowed to operate in return for $100 they wish to levy on each user.

“All they’re looking for is money; no more, no less.”

Ahmad Ramadan, a pseudonym used for safety reasons, is an Arab Weekly reporter in Raqqa.

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